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Paralympic champion Ciulli (ITA), from Tokyo 2020 to the European masters in Rome: “Inside the water we are all equal”

Bronze at the world championships in London 2019, two Bronzes at the 2016 European championships in Funchal, 40 Italian titles, a silver at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo 2020. These are some of the most important achievements of Paralympic swimming champion Simone Ciulli, who has a boundless passion for water since childhood that led him to compete in Rome for the European masters.
In order to encourage the proper development of his right leg and right arm, which was blocked by cerebral palsy at birth, the Florentine swimmer began swimming at an early age, excelling in water skills and reaching regional finals and national championships.
At the age of 26, he was offered to take part in some competitions in the Paralympic swimming circuit and immediately achieved successes that led him, 10 years later, to win silver at the Tokyo Games with the 4x100 freestyle relay.
Today Simone is 36 years old, married to Isabella with whom he lives in Florence and from whom he is expecting a child. He has a degree in law and works as a lawyer, which he reconciles with 12 weekly training sessions in the water and in the gym. A coach at the Swimming Club Masters in Florence, in the past he has followed some able-bodied athletes such as Moroccan Noura Mana. At the European masters championships in Rome Ciuli will be on the blocks in the men’s 200m butterfly and 50m freestyle scheduled for 2 September.

Did you follow the races at the European championships?
“Absolutely! I also did the Euro Fantasy Aquatics. I did very badly. I had Italian Lorenzo (Zazzeri) as captain, then I had Ilaria Bianchi, Lisa Angiolini, Thomas Ceccon. I only lined up swimmers and got about 1500 points, but I saw people with 3000 - 3500 points.

Why did you enter the masters in Rome?
"I am the coach of a masters team and I said to myself: I'll go and compete too. With the Paralympic national team we had the world championship in June; the next one is in August 2023. There are no short course or international competitions this year, so it is important to focus on training and competing. I signed up for the 50m freestyle, which is my race, and the 200 butterfly, which by the way is not even a Paralympic event, but I like to test myself. I also won a bronze at the last masters Italian championships.”

Did you look at the start lists?
"Yes, I should be sixth in the 200m, but we are all there.”

It will be an integrated race. In your opinion, is this the direction the sport needs to take?
"There was a slogan 'swimming is one' when I joined the Paralympic circuit and in my opinion this is how it should be as it happens in many other countries. In my opinion, there could be a complete integration."

You made your debut with your first Paralympic competition 10 years ago at Pietralata, the venue for the European masters championships in Rome, where you also set the Italian record in the 50m and 100m freestyle.
“I prefer the Stadio del Nuoto all my life (smiling). I love Pietralata, I remember that race, with Cristina Chiuso as commentator. It was very nice, but it is no coincidence that they say that the Stadio del Nuoto is the most beautiful pool in the world.”

What do you think of the Roma 2022 masters competition?
“So many athletes have signed up, it's definitely a good sign. I think the most important thing is that sport is practised at different ages and with different difficulties, even by Paralympic athletes. There are athletes who do sports activity every day and it is extraordinary. I have been coaching masters athletes for more than 10 years now and there is no doubt that there is a great benefit on a mental and physical level. The masters have not only a competitive factor, but also a social one because it combines values that I hold dear and which I try to convey personally. I hope that politicians can look at these Europeans to realise the social benefits, as well as seeing people in their 80s and 90s competing, which many could be inspired by. Masters swimming is not just any activity, it is something much more important that is reflected in the athletes' daily lives, helps them feel better about themselves, creates new bonds and allows for social inclusion from all conditions because inside the water we are all equal.”

Italy in swimming have achieved important goals at world and European level, including at Rome 2022. Why do you think it’s so?
"The results are the fruit of an Italian team of the highest level, I say this as a second level coach, Italian regional coach and swimming school coordinator. It repays the great work done by the swimming schools and clubs that, despite the difficulties of the moment, rolled up their sleeves. The sum of these factors made possible the incredible results of both able-bodied and Paralympic Italian national teams. We won two world championships, in 2019 and 2021, the able-bodied squa won the European championships and had a fantastic world championships in Budapest. In my opinion, this is no coincidence, there has been great work of both federations.”

You train together with Lorenzo Zazzeri in Florence, did you talk to each other after the last successes?
“I heard from him a lot, I trained with him until I left for Rome, along with Matteo Restivo and Filippo Megli. They are champions and I paid him many compliments.”

Which mascot do you prefer between Gastone and Lea?
"Lea, although they are both beautiful. I love animals and we have an Akita named Penny and two cats Shady and Yago at home'.

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